Need a great small Spanish town (great for food that is)
This sounds like a travel question, but it is really a food question. Believe me, it's very much a food question.
I have two grade school kids. I want to go to Spain next April, One week will be in Barcelona. One week... I'm looking for an interesting small town, or region, or chunk of the countryside or whatever. What's interesting? Food, rustic setting, castles to climb around, restaurants, a market once or twice a week, day trips around the area, food, did I mention food yet.
This isn't an art museum and nightclubbing trip; it isn't the trip on which we'll go to El Bulli. This is a live there for a week, enjoy the countryside, eat at the same place three times because we love it and they smile at my kids, have at least a couple of other nice restaurants to choose from too kind of trip. In France I might suggest Aix-en-Provence, in Ireland the Dingle peninsula or Kilkenny. Smaller than the big capitol, but enough going on that we won't exhaust it the first day.
And, as I say, food is a big deciding factor-- not that it has four-star places necessarily, but that the local food is memorable. Where is that perfect place in Spain for what I seek?
I think that is an excellent question! My mother-in-law is from the Basque Country, so my wife and I go there pretty much every summer. I love the whole region, but I'm sure you're read plenty about the Basque Country already.
Most summers we take a side trip for a few days. And so far, my favorite area besides the Basque Country is Asturias. The weather isn't guaranteed like most other parts of Spain, but that also means that it's very green, and there aren't many tourists.
There's lots of history (I remember some Celtic ruins), beaches, and beautiful mountains (Picos de Europa) more inland.
Lots of cool little towns that aren't too perfect. Great food everywhere--probably most famous for the bean stews and cabrales cheese (I think it's blue cheese from sheep). Very friendly people.
Oh, and the most common drink is hard cider--sidra. Sidrerias everywhere you look. Really a great place...
I second the Basque country, which is reknown for having the best food in Spain. San Sebastian, which is on the ocean and beautiful, is probably the best food city in Spain for both tapas (pinchos in the Basque counrty) and upscale restaurants like Arzak or Akelarre. There's an aquarium and an old-fashioned mountain top amusement park for your kids. If you have a car, the countryside gets very rural very fast. Pamplona (an hour away) is not as stunning as San Sebastian, but is more laid back and is in Navarra, the province with the best vegetables and a beautiful countryside. The fresh white asparagus and artichoke seasons are in the spring (both have denomination of origen status and both are as superior to what you'd get in a supermarket in the states as a Ferrari is to a Chevy Malibu). You will have better weather in the south and holy week, especially in Seville, is spectacular, but the food is not nearly as good. Tradional food in the center of the counry (Segovia or Extramadura) tends to be pretty heavy and meaty -- roasted meat, hearty stews, cured meats, that sort of thing -- which may not be the best for kids. But like somebody else said, just about anwhere you go in Spain will have good food, historical monuments, friendly people and a nice countryside. Almeria is about the one ugly city I've been to, and even that had decent towns a half hour away.
Reply to all of the above:
ChrisB-- any cool little towns in particular?
Torta-- I'm sure Girona will be a day trip from Barcelona. I'm thinking an entirely different region of Spain.
Butterfly-- If I need one, I'll have one. I'd just as soon do without, but if it makes a particularly great place accessible, then I'll have one.
Erica-- So tell me what you like about Segovia. I've got candidates I've read about, now I want real people's input!
Thanks all, looking forward to additional comments.
re: Morton Arthur Eaton
On the eating front, what I loved in the towns surrounding Segovia was not so much the roast suckling pig, although that was excellent, but the roast suckling lamb. One of the capitals of this dish is the town of Sepulveda; you can visit the Canyons of the Duraton River nearby. Another "must" for baby lamb is the small town of Pedraza, complete with castle; this is among the loveliest towns I have visited in Spain. From Segovia, El Escorial, La Granja, and Avila are easy day trips.
Segovia has a fablulous Disneyland-style castle as well as a huge Roman aquaduct running
through town. It's also the roast baby pig capital of the earth. The downside is it's a fairly
small town and most visitors are on a day trip from Madrid. I'm not sure there's a week's
worth of stuff to do there. You'd probably want to have a car or need to get real familiar with
the excellent but sometimes confusing intercity bus system to branch out to maybe Toledo
and Salamanca. Be prepared to eat a lot of you'll-remember-this-meal-for-a-lifetime pork;
search posts for "cochinillo".
The traditional Cordoba-Granada-Sevilla triangle is a week's worth of adventure though
somewhat of a touristical cliche and great chow is harder to come by.
Probably no one you know has been to Extremadura. if you have even a passing interest
in the Conquistadores, where they came from, why they were such insanely violent people,
what happened to them after they slaughtered the Incas, this is the place to come and
learn about their centuries of history as dirt-poor subsistence pig farmers. The best spanish
hams (the best hams anywhere, in fact) come from the little black pigs living in the
cork forests here eating acorns. It's still an extremely poor corner of europe -- the most
typical regional dish is Migas, fried breadcrumbs. The bus system works very well here.
Maybe the Atlantic coast? You can safely skip San Sebastian, unless you've got a need to
eat in restaurants you've heard about in the Times but then you'd be missing actual
Spain. Start in Santender where the seafood, particularly Rabas, a calamari-like fried
tapa, rules. Hit Gijon and Oviedo and try to find the tastiest Fabada in Spain. if you pass
through Unquera, eat a Corbata or two. Head up into the Picos de Europa where you'll
find four of the great spanish food secrets: Cabrales, Orujo, Sidra, and Cocido Montanes.
A car is absolutely necessary here unless you have a *lot* of time to spare. The caves
at Altamira, the torture museum at Santillana del Mar, the farmers carving their wooden
shoes in Carmona should all provide enough entertainment for the kids. Visit Potes.
Eat all the cheese you can.
You can pretty much throw a dart at a map of Spain and be assured of hitting someplace
real interesting with amazing food. Someone here a while back discribed Barcelona as "spain
with training wheels". Which nails it. So your plan on a week there and then getting away is a
real good one.